Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Free Rip Torn

You know, that title really is apropos of absolutely nothing, but this morning I'm listening to the surprisingly good Lil Flip album "I Need Mine" (yes, really), and its perfectly pleasant morning listening except for the fact that every couple of minutes or so it's interrupted by the phrase "Free Z-Ro."

Now, I have to assume that's some kind of rapper who was in jail at the time, and I've decided to take up the cause and champion someone far too talented (but obviously just perfectly crazy enough) to be locked up: Rip Torn. I'm fairly certain I don't have any power in this area, but I just saw this morning that he pleaded not guilty to armed robbery (who among us hasn't wanted to rob a bank at some point in your life?), and could only think how great it would be to have him somehow come back to life on "30 Rock."

And yes, it's gonna be one of those kind of days around here. Sandwiched among the absurdities will be exactly one piece of serious news, about what sounds like an absolutely fabulous Errol Morris film, and it will all be wrapped up with the 160 best Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes (again, yes really.)

Where in the world would you start things off, however, than with this: The Coen brothers need a one-armed woman to complete filming on their version of "True Grit" (and being a huge fan both of theirs and of author Charles Portis, you can count me as thoroughly psyched for this one.)

If that proves anything, I guess, it's at least that the Coens have no time for CGI (thank God.) Here, courtesy of AICN, is the casting call they put out:

Paramount Pictures is seeking a WOMAN MISSING HER LEFT ARM to be a photo double in the film, TRUE GRIT, a new film by Joel & Ethan Coen.

Character description: Photo double for adult Mattie Ross: This woman must be MISSING HER LEFT ARM. Optimally, she would be around 5'8", 138 lbs, slender to medium build. However, we are open to various looks.

To submit: Please do so asap! Send photos, measurements & contact information to Photos should be non-glamorous, simple snapshots (incl face and body. It's best to wear a tank top & shorts). Measurements should include height, weight, bust, waist & hips. Include age, phone numbers & place of residence. Approrpriate candidates may also call our office at 512-637-6775.

So, if you happen to be a one-armed woman who's reading this, this is truly your lucky day. Since I'm not one of those, the best thing I can take from that is the phrase "we are open to various looks" ... as long as, of course, you happen to be a one-armed woman. Priceless.

Before going from that to two things that are almost as crazy, why not class things up at least a bit with some Errol Morris news? Though the man has made many great documentaries, my favorites of his are "Mr. Death" (watch that immediately if you haven't seen it) and "Fog of War," movies which offer well-rounded, almost sympathetic portraits of seriously evil or f-ed up people. And it certainly sounds like that's exactly what he has for his new movie.

It seems he's just finished work on something to be called either "Tabloid" or "A Very Special Love Story." No matter what it ends up being titled, it should be just fascinating. The subject is Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who, in the late 70s, abducted a Mormon missionary in England, chained him to a bed and forced him to have sex with her. From there, of course, it just gets weirder. After jumping bail, she was convicted in absentia (sp?) to one year in prison because, at the time, there were no laws on the books about raping men. She was later accused of stalking the same dude, and in 2008, took her dog to Korea to be cloned.

Not much to build a sympathetic character out of, I suppose, but I'm betting Morris will at least come very close to doing it. Definitely keep your eyes out for this one, which is rumored to be in the running for this year's Cannes Film Festival.

OK, there will be nothing else remotely serious today from here on out, I promise. Anyone who's been here before (and there may be a few of you) knows that I'm a solid backer of Anna Faris, both for her obvious feminine virtues but even moreso because she's just about the best comedienne out there today. For proof that she can be insanely funny in just about anything, look no further than Jody Hill's "Observe and Report," in which her memorable turn as a seriously bitchy counter girl was just about the only redeeming quality.

Well, she's about to put the "watch her in just about anything" idea to a real test by starring in a remake of "Private Benjamin." In the realm of unnecessary remakes, this is far from the worst offender (my vote there goes to "Let Me In," the upcoming English language remake of "Let the Right One In), and though it surely won't win her an Oscar like it did Goldie Hawn, I'm still betting it could be a hoot. And besides, since I've seen "House Bunny" (and actually enjoyed it more than a bit), the odds are pretty good I'll see this too.

And finally today (or at least before Ahnuld), in the category of a man's gotta eat, it seems that Malcolm D. Lee has signed on to direct "Fantasy Basketball Camp," to star one Lebron James. Take a second to digest just how bad that could be, and then please let me come to the defense of the other Mr. Lee (who, if I'm not mistaken, is indeed some kind of cousin to Spike.)

How many directors can you name who have made three movies that you either love or really like? Well with "Undercover Brother," "Roll Bounce" and "Soul Men," Malcolm D. Lee has in my book, so I'm more than a little willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (and yes, maybe even go see his Lebron James movie too.) If you haven't seen the Bow Wow roller skating flick (once again, yes really) "Roll Bounce" or "Soul Men," which paired the late, great Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, I highly recommend them both.

OK, how better than to wrap up all that absurdity than with the 160 best Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes? I can't imagine anyone will sit through the entire 10 minutes of this, but as far as time-wasters go, this one is pretty epicly good. My favorite part would have be the "bullshit" compendium, but there's obviously a lot of Ahnuld to choose from. Enjoy this clip courtesy of, have a perfectly pain-free Wednesday, and, now and forever, free Rip Torn. Peace out.

P.S.: In honor of opening day coming Monday (finally!) enjoy this clip of Steve Wynn singing his simply fabulous tribute to Fernando Valenzuela. Play ball!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

With apologies to Smokey, only you can stop the 3-D plague

Actually, if I can start with a movie you all should go see ('cause I do try to keep a positive outlook on things from time to time), if you live in one of our major cities, go see Jacques Audiard's "Un Prophete" while you still have the chance.

One thing people should learn early in life is to believe at least almost everything their parents say, and this is one case that proves that solidly. When my parents compared Audiard's movie to "The Godfather" in terms of both story and quality, I was sure they had to be exaggerating, but thankfully not.

Indeed, the journey that's undergone by the titular character (Tahar Rahim) does in a way mirror the development of Michael Corleone, and it's simply mesmerising to watch (and I promise you won't even notice until the very end that it's nearly three hours long.) The movie is about what he has to do to survive a six-year term in prison, but there's a whole lot going on in that deceptively simple story arc, and the flick is packed with little moments that are magical as stand-alone nuggets but just devastating when you pile them all together (my favorite would have to be when he sticks out his tongue while going through airport security because that's the only way he knows to get searched. Priceless.)

I had never heard of Audiard until last weekend, but now at the top of my Netflix queue to be watched this weekend are his last two movies, "The Beat My Heart Skipped" and "Read My Lips." And I really can't recommend a movie much higher at all than I can "Un Prophete," so please go see it while you still have the chance.

OK, after that today, it's not quite so sunny (until the grand finale, which will thankfully feature the blissfully silly trailer for Jean Pierre Jeunet's "Micmacs," shortened, I believe, from "Micmacs Tire a Larigot.")

Now, I'm usually not one to tell people not to see movies in any form, being a firm believer in the right of people to make up their own damn minds, even if that means you go see Miley Cyrus' new movie this week. When it comes to the 3-D virus, however, a stand has to be taken, and this is indeed the week to do it (though, in case you're wondering, yes, I am well aware that I don't have to power to lead it ... nonetheless ...).

And yes, I do concede that (very rarely) the 3-D gimmick does have merit. I saw "Avatar" two times and loved it more the second one, and I thought the 3-D was used to even better effect in Henry Selick's thoroughly charming "Coraline." But, as far as I know (and I only have doubts about the latter), those were two movies conceived and shot in 3-D, rather than simply "converted" to it afterward (which is when it's outed as the complete gimmick it is.)

I would be willing to just dismiss the 3-D phenomenon as a passing fad and continue to see all my movies in glorious 2-D ("Alice in Wonderland," by the way, was fantastic when viewed the old-fashioned way, and cheaper too!), but it's of course gone well beyond that stage already. When you have studios like Warner Bros. (and possibly others already too) announcing all their "tentpole" movies from now on will be released in 3-D (exaggerate much?), it's time to learn to just say no, because clearly they can't.

So, what prompted this screed? Well, two things. First up comes the rather welcome news that in the wake of the disappointing opening of "How to Train Your Dragon" (is $44 million really disappointing? Apparently so), stock in Dreamworks dropped 8 percent on Monday. Now, I haven't seen the movie (as already established, this arthouse snob spent Saturday afternoon watching "Un Prophete" instead), but every war has to start somewhere, and if this 3-D flick has to be the first fatality, so be it.

The second thing that set me off is that Louis Leterrier's remake of "Clash of the Titans" opens this week, and as tempting as it is pop for those goofy glasses to see the Kraken in 3-D, this man at least is gonna see it in good, old-fashioned 2-D, and I'm enlisting you to do so too (if you see it all.) After all, Regal and AMC, at least, have already raised 3-D ticket prices across the board, with other companies sure to follow suit and, if no one squawks (as I'm trying to do now), more increases sure to come.

And it obviously doesn't stop with "Clash of the Titans." Other upcoming movies for which you can make the rational choice of 2-D over 3-D include Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," "Shrek Forever After," "Toy Story 3," and since seemingly every other movie is at least now "converted" to 3-D, a whole lot more I'm surely overlooking here.

But you get my point. As soon as they started raising prices arbitrarily, the 3-D bug morphed from a trick into a cancer, and there's no way to stop it than just saying no, starting right now.

Whew. That's a whole lot of bile for a Tuesday morning, and I can't think of anything better to sweeten it up than this fantastic trailer for Jean Pierre Jeunet's "Micmacs." I thought the American release window for Jeunet's latest had already come and gone, but this is one case in which I'd be thrilled to be wrong. It indeed just played the SXSW festival, and gets another U.S. release on May 28, when I'll surely be there to see it. As you'll see from the trailer, "Micmacs" is about a band of misfits who join together to take on an arms manufacturer, and it definitely looks like its filled with plenty of Jeunet spirit. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kiki's Delivery Service still manages to cast enchanting spell

Deceptively simple and sweet, Hayao Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service has still managed to linger in the hearts of movie lovers, and now it's finally gotten the proper DVD release it deserves from Disney and Studio Ghibli.

Kiki, voiced by a young Kirsten Dunst in this Western version of the story, is a 13-year-old witch who - as is the custom - is sent to live away from her parents for a year to figure out what her talent is. Kiki eventually settles on the village of Koriko, which resembles a seaside European village in the 1950s, and sets up her titular delivery service.

One of the things that makes viewers of all ages become instantly engaged with Kiki's story is the genuine wonder with which she approaches the world, delivered in both Miyazaki's story (loosely based on the novel by Eiko Kadono) and in Dunst's voice work. He's said in interviews that he modeled Kiki's adventures on the mix of independence and reliance experienced by Japanese girls, and as he did for younger children with My Neighbor Totoro and later Ponyo, he's made a story that fits his heroine's age and outlook perfectly.

And it doesn't hurt that visually this is probably Miyazaki's best work too, and certainly his most mainstream. John Lasseter, who introduces the movie on DVD, is known to be a devoted fan, and you can see the direct link from the stunning sight of Kiki encountering her new seaside home for the first time and when Remy scurries to the rooftop and first overlooks Paris. Oh if only Pixar hadn't caught the 3-D bug ... oops, I won't digress.

As Kiki settles in Koriko and applies her talent for flying, she's always accompanied by her loyal sidekick, a black cat named Jiji, voiced in the Western version by the late Phil Hartman. Though he was never one of my favorite Saturday Night Live performers, he's restrained but seriously sarcastic here, and it's what I most like to remember him for.

Kiki also finds her first love in Tombo, a young boy who looks surely not coincidentally a heck of a lot like TinTin. Like Miyazaki, Tombo has a love of flying machines. And it's this signature Miyazaki trait that give's Kiki's Delivery Service its strongest act - the big finale.

The movie ambles along at a leisurely and breezy pace until Kiki starts to lose her two most valuable skills, flying and the ability to talk to Jiji. I don't want to give too much away, but she eventually gets them back with the help of a mysterious hippie artist named Ursula (Janeane Garofalo, yes really), just in time to come to the rescue of poor Tombo, who finds himself - among other things - hanging on to a rope attached to a crashed dirigible. It's a super action set piece that's rivaled in Miyazaki's work only by the finale of Castle in the Sky, and it's what seals the timeless quality of Kiki's Delivery Service.

In the extras, Miyazaki makes a sly dig at Western audiences who don't stick around through the credits (unlike Japanese audiences who, not surprisingly, apparently sit there dutifully until the lights come up), and there is indeed plenty of reason to stick around until the very end of Kiki's credits (which I admittedly didn't do until now.) It completes the story in a humorous and touching way, and just sums it up perfectly.

Though the real treasure among the extras are the original storyboards that allow you to see the movie coming together in Miyazaki's hands, there are also featurettes which let you hear from the man himself, and it's here that his genuine love for this movie comes through. The animation master hopefully has at least a few more movies left in him, and it's a pure joy to see the mischief in his eyes as he talks about "deceiving" Japanese viewers into thinking that Kokiro was based on actual European city, whereas it's clearly just a hodgepodge of classic European settings, rendered as beautifully as an impressionist painting.

And, most remarkable of all, producer Toshio Suzuki reveals that he pitched the idea of making a movie about an adolescent girl, and at the time Miyazaki said he knew nothing about them (having only sons.) As anyone who's seen Kiki's Delivery Service knows, that didn't keep him from making a movie that not only captures that awkward period in life perfectly but also delivers a tale that manages to cast a still lingering spell on viewers young and old more than 20 years after its original release.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

At the Movies may be dead, but Roger Ebert's plotting TV comeback

Actually, before I get into any of that, there's at least one bit of actual movie news out there that just made me smile.

If there's one sequel I could get completely behind, it would certainly be an "Eastern Promises 2," especially since all the key components will be there for the second go-round.

Indeed, Deadline Hollywood is reporting it will be a reunion of star Viggo Mortensen, director David Cronenberg and scribe Steven Knight, who wrote the script for the engaging original. The only things missing so far are Naomi Watts and any mention of just what direction this new gangster tale from London's extremely seedy underbelly will take.

And in the meantime, Cronenberg and Mortensen are about to team up once again for "The Talking Cure," which will examine the intense relationship between Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and how their treatment effected one particular patient played by Keira Knightley (and no, as far as I know, it's not a treatment for anorexia.)

The world is certainly a better place with David Cronenberg working steadily in it, so having this set to begin filming in May and hopefully an Eastern Promises sequel to begin shortly after is nothing but good news.

But beyond that, the very best news out there today is that Roger Ebert has announced on his always entertaining blog that he plans a return to reviewing movies on TV. When it was announced this week that "At the Movies" would be dying after this season, I kind of just shrugged, because admittedly I've tuned in only intermittently at best ever since Gene Siskel died (I just can't stand that damn Richard Roeper!) But a new show starring Ebert again is one I'll actively seek out every week once this comes together, no matter where it gets buried in the syndication schedule (my money's on fairly early Sunday morning or late Saturday night.)

Ebert said he's deep into negotiations for a show that would be called "Roger Ebert Presents at the Movies," the thumbs would (of course) return, and that he's held video tests with several potential hosts and knows who will fill the role (I'd certainly be more than willing to audition!) Unfortunately, given what cancer has done to his voice, I can't imagine Ebert will be a regular co-host himself, but he promised to have an active role, with "great movies segments or wrapups from Cannes or Toronto."

And, in the spirit for which I've always loved his writing, Ebert embraced the new endeavor with his usual enthusiasm:

We'll also go New Cinema. Not just the One Weekend Wonders, although you gotta have 'em, but indie films, foreign films, documentaries, restored classics, the new Herzog, the new Bahrani, the new Almodovar. What's new on Instant Streaming. What great movies should everyone see? Hey, Paramount just announced $1 million for ten $100,000 movies. Those kinds of films. What kind of a real movie lover cares who has the "exclusive" first trailer in the newest extrusion of the "Transformer" franchise? It's time to smarten up.

Stay tuned for details about just what shape this will take. I can still remember the moment I fell in love with Siskel and Ebert. It was when they - Ebert especially - so eagerly embraced "Hoop Dreams" at a time when I was just first starting to figure out for myself that it takes all kinds of movies to make the world a fun place. Amazingly, thanks to the power of YouTube, we can watch that again today. I'll leave you with a portion of that, and I'm off to go see "Hot Tub Time Machine" instead of "How to Train Your Dragon" because I'm so angry about them raising 3-D prices that I've decided to give those crooks as little of my money as I can manage to. Peace out.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What in the world ever happened to Brad Bird?

You know, when a dude has managed to direct two out of three of my favorite animated movies in "The Iron Giant" and "Ratatouille" (with only Hayao Miyazaki's "Kiki's Delivery Service" sandwiched in between), it really is odd to watch him pretty much just disappear, but that seems to be exactly what's happened to Brad Bird.

For the last few (or maybe more) years, he's been trying desperately to mount a live-action take on the novel "1906," which would just be a blast. Actually, I didn't really care for the book by James Dalessandro, but it's subject matter - the politically corrupt world of San Francisco in the titular year, and the great earthquake that brought it all crumbling down - is just ripe for Bird's natural gift for storytelling.

Though that's still somehow listed as a "2012" project at the IMDB, it still has no cast that I know of, and I'm fairly certain that Warner Bros. has balked at putting up the scratch Bird would need to pull it off - or apparently, even really get started.

Now, however, it seems that J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise (it apparently does help to have friends in high places) might step in to give him something almost as fun to work with. With a May 27, 2011, release date already set and filming set to begin this summer on "Mission Impossible IV," the duo have yet to settle on one minor question: Who should direct this?

Well, it seems they've already talked with "Zombieland" director Ruben Fleischer and Edgar Wright, who has "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" coming this summer (bring it on, already!), and now you can add the most intriguing choice, Bird, to that list too.

I know that's a lot to write about a movie that's so far off, but I really just adore spy movies, and once this one finally comes together it should just be nothing but fun - especially in the hand of Brad Bird or Edgar Wright.

OK, after that today, it's all about Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels (well, until we get to the finale, at least.)

Because the man feels it's both his right and duty to direct at least two movies every year, Tyler Perry has a new movie, "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too?", coming out next week. And though I've seen and at least somewhat enjoyed every movie the man has made so far (how many directors can you really say that about?), this is the first one I'm really just not looking forward to, because it's - obviously - the sequel to what I think was his worst movie so far.

But here today, it's not about any of that, but instead what's happening with his next movie, which should just be epicly good. His take on the play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange is set to shoot in New York this June, for a January 2011 release (meaning, rather amazingly, the man will only have one movie in theaters this year), and it's not surprisingly attracting some big names.

Mariah Carey, who proved she can really act in Daniels' "Precious," and "Why Did I Get Married" star Janet Jackson are the latest big names to join a cast that already has Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Jurnee Smollett, Kimberly Elise (aka Perry's "Mad Black Woman"), Loretta Devine and singer Macy Gray. He apparently wanted Beyonce, Oprah and Halle Berry, too, but perhaps even Tyler Perry can't get everything he wants.

One of Perry's greatest strengths has always been his ability to write strong, well-rounded parts for women, so this flick should be a dream fit, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with.

And Daniels, a Perry protege of sorts, is also putting together a pretty fascinating cast for "Selma," which will be his followup to "Precious" and be about Martin Luther King Jr.'s pivotal 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

Already announced are Hugh Jackman as Sheriff Jim Clark, "Precious" vet Lenny Kravitz as Andrew Young and British actor David Oyelowo as Dr. King himself, and now you can add to that Liam Neeson as Lyndon Johnson and Cedric the Entertainer as King cohort Ralph Abernathy. Robert De Niro had earlier been rumored to be playing George Wallace, which would have been remarkable, but that apparently isn't happening. Even so, that's a pretty wild cast for this epic saga, so definitely keep your eyes on this one.

And finally, I'll leave you today with easily the funniest thing I found online this morning. Though as a matter of habit I usually go to bed by 11 p.m., on those occasions when I happen to be up later, I always go out of my way to watch Conan O'Brien, wherever he might be. For folks who make a whole lot more money than I do, he's on a live tour this summer, and hopefully headed back to late night as soon as this fall on Fox, but in the meantime singer/songwriter/comic Ben Sheehan has come up with this little tribute that fits this spirit of CoCo perfectly. Set to the tune of Diddy's "I'll Be Missing You" (which of course is already a grand pilferation from the Police), "I'll Be Watching You (Miss You Coco)" is as genuinely funny as it is simply bizarre. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For Tuesday, an international treasure trove of trailers

Actually, there's two bits of TV news out there today that are just too good to pass up. First up, it seems that rather than run for president (one can only hope, right?), Sarah Palin has either signed on or is about to for a reality show about her crazy clan's antics in Alaska. Here's hoping the crazy does indeed come out in full bloom, making her a reality star rather than any kind of leader in the "reality" that is real life.

And in news about something I'll probably watch, though am clearly far, far too old to without feeling at least a little dirty, it seems that veryfunnyman Aziz Ansari is in final negotiations to host the next "MTV Movie Awards," slated to air live June 6.

Aziz, live and unfiltered? Yeah, I'll at least tune in for his opening monologue. He's easiest the funniest thing about "Parks and Recreation" and was in the only funny person in Judd Apatow's woefully mistitled "Funny People." And, as you'll see if you stick around until the end today, he'll probably be the funniest person in "Get Him to the Greek" too when that drops this summer.

And now to transition rather quickly into the clips, because they're all pretty epicly good (or in the case of the first one, just odd), it begins with a bit of truly good news. While the aforementioned MTV has its eyes on my very favorite British teen show "Skins" (and bizarrely enough transporting the action of it to Baltimore), there's something happening on that front that should be much better.

If you've never seen "Skins," I can't recommend it highly enough. Though it is indeed sometimes as tawdry as anything you find on the CW (and often much moreso), it's also about three tons better. With a cast that wisely changes every two years to keep things fresh (they just wrapped season four, I believe, so a new cast is on the way), it examines the lives of a group of bored but never boring teenagers in Bristol. And just in case you doubt the worth of all this, the first two seasons not only featured the Slumdog himself, Dev Patel, but also Peter Capaldi, known best lately as the blissfully foul-mouthed political operative Malcolm Tucker in "In the Loop."

And I tell you all that to tell you this: Jack Thorne, who wrote some of the show's best episodes, has been hired to write a big-screen movie that would reunite the casts of the first four seasons (well, those that are still alive, anyway.) I realize this is an awful lot of information about a movie that no one who actually reads this but me would care about, but so what? This should be nothing but fun, and for a taste of just how trippy the show can be, here's a clip featuring Sid, Cassie and others singing Cat Steven's "Wild World." Yes, really. Enjoy.

Skins - Wild World
Uploaded by omiKASE. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Now, since I promised this would have an international flavor, the next two clips are trailers for French flicks, though thankfully the first one comes with subtitles and, well, the second one really doesn't need any words at all.

First up comes the first full trailer I know of for "Les Aventures Extraordinaires d'Adele Blanc Sec," the first movie directed by Luc Besson that I've wanted to see in quite a while. It's set to open in France on April 14, and though I've yet to find any kind of U.S. release date, I think this will be a really big hit that will travel across the pond and to a multiplex near me sometime soon. As you'll see from the trailer, our heroine is a journalist of sorts who's also an adventurer like Indiana Jones used to be at his best, and in the flick she encounters a pterodactyl and all kinds of other fun things. Enjoy.

Next up comes something you can count me as thoroughly jazzed about, a new movie by Sylvain Chomet, with a script (as much as there will be one) by Jacques Tati. You may well remember Chomet as the director of the blissfully bizarre and completely dialogue-free "Triplets of Belleville." I love that flick, so I'm thrilled that he's back to animation (AND IN GLORIOUS 2-D!) with something called "The Illusionist." As best as I can tell, the titular illusionist is a struggling magician who befriends a young girl who is enchanted by his tricks (and no, as seedy as that might sound, there's nothing untoward about any of this at all.) It too only has a French release date so far, the first week of May, but definitely keep your eyes out for it over here (and certainly let me know if you find it!) Enjoy the trailer, which is in Russian, but doesn't have any dialogue anyway.

And finally today, as promised, comes the first redband trailer I know of for "Get Him to the Greek," which will continue the rather ribald adventures of Aldous Snow when it drops June 4. I recently rewatched the movie it springs from, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," again at the Macon Film Festival, and though the movie didn't get any better, it is fun communal viewing (especially when charmingly hosted by Jack McBrayer.) As you'll see from the clip below, and you youngins won't even have to jump through the fake hoop of putting your fake age, it does indeed bring some real funny with Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, and plenty of raunch too. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

DVD review: My Neighbor Totoro is still charming after all these years

In a movie world in which it seems like everything we see will be in 3-D (and I'm not exaggerating one bit there), there are really very few better reminders of how beautiful old-fashioned storytelling can be than in the still extremely charming films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Out now on DVD from Disney and Studio Ghibli are special editions of "Kiki's Delivery Service," "Castle in the Sky" and "My Neighbor Totoro." "Totoro," more than any Miyazaki movie, just perfectly captures his ability to view the world through the eyes of mischievous children, and in Totoro himself gave the studio its signature mascot.

Unlike most of Miyazaki's movies, "Totoro" has a definite time and place, rural Japan in the 1950s, and he and his animators turn the landscape of rice patty fields and wooded areas into an enchanting place to visit.

As the movie opens, Satsuki and her 4-year-old sister Mei, voiced with wide-eyed enthusiasm by Dakota and Elle Fanning in the Western version (yes, really), arrive with their father at their new home in the countryside, and of course immediately find it to be full of wonders, including the susuwatsari, soot sprites that disappear once the girls become comfortable in their new surroundings.

And this odd living arrangement (mom, it turns out, is recovering in a hospital from a long-term illness) just about perfectly captures how Miyazaki views the role of adults and children in the world. Dad, voiced by Tim Daly, is benevolent but aloof, happy to keep his nose buried in books while his daughters explore the world around them. It can be troubling if you think about it too much, and even more so in "Ponyo," but don't ... just let the charms of "Totoro" unfold around you as they do for young Mei.

After spying a pint-size, semi-translucent version of Totoro (there are, since Miyazaki is ever the prankster, three of them), Mei follows it through a thicket of trees and down a hole where she finally encounters the giant version of Totoro, who most closely resembles a big cat, but really just looks so odd that he can be just about anything you want him to be. There's a genuine goofy charm to their first encounter, as Mei lays on the stomach of a sleeping Totoro and tries to figure out just what in the world she's encountered.

I don't want to give away too much for anyone who's never seen this or just wants to rediscover the movie again, but from there it turns into one of Miyazaki's trippiest rides, and it's a thoroughly fun one to take. On the way we get a signature moment of Miyazaki wit when Totoro first reveals himself to Satsuki as she and Mei are waiting in the rain for their father at a bus stop, and promptly jumps up to drench her with water. Things get crazier and crazier, though at a natural pace, until a giant cat bus (you really have to see it to believe it) arrives to reunite the girls with their mother.

I think Miyazaki's best movies, "Totoro," "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Ponyo" (though I have a real soft spot for "Porco Rosso" too), are the ones he has clearly made for kids. He's just a big kid himself, and he delights in creating worlds that let children explore everything around them and discover all the dangers and delights.

And, whether you've never seen "My Neighbor Totoro" or simply want to reunite with a movie I'm sure many of you loved when it first came out in 1993 (in the U.S.A., five years after its Japanese release), this "special edition" is one that truly earns that designation.

The real treasure here are the original Japanese storyboards, which let you watch the movie as a work in progress, with Miyazaki's raw drawings accompanied by the Western voice track. For animation lovers, this really is an indispensable treasure.

And in the World of Ghibli, there are a series of featurettes, the best of which feature Miyazaki himself talking about what he has created with "Totoro." It's here that you see both Miyazaki's clear love of Japan and his impish spirit emerge. And hearing producer Toshio Suzuki explain how Totoro himself is and isn't like "ET" is just a delight. One word of caution - unless you're simply in need of a sleeping aid, avoid at all costs the "The Locations of Totoro" featurette, which is simply a half hour of some Japanese actress walking through the Japanese countryside and saying things like "this farmhouse easily could have fit in 'Totoro'." Yes, really, and it's just as boring as it sounds here. Other than that, however, the extras here are well worth an hour or so to delve into the weird and often wonderful world of Studio Ghibli.

Whether you're discovering it for the first time or, like me, revisiting an old favorite, "My Neighbor Totoro" has a timeless charm that will never grow old, and is well worth watching again on this special edition release.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Will Tim Burton ever again have an original idea?

I wonder what would happen if Tim Burton ever encountered an original idea. Would his head - or perhaps his entire body - explode? He certainly must think so, because though the man is clearly a talented director (and yes, I really liked "Alice in Wonderland" quite a bit), he's also just as clearly incredibly insecure.

Rather than take a chance on anything even slightly out of the norm, he's instead signed on to direct a stop-motion animation adaptation of "The Addams Family." And yes, that Addams Family. Sheesh. I've never actually seen the movies that have already sprung from the horror/comedy franchise, but I did see a YouTube clip of Christina Ricci breaking down the real origins of Thanksgiving as Wednesday, and that was nothing but extremely funny (what ever happened to her, any way .. I mean, "Black Snake Moan" really was just about as horrible as it could possibly be, but was it a career killer?)

Actually, I've learned something from this news, so I guess I should be grateful. Did anyone else know the Addams Family actually originated as a New Yorker cartoon? Burton claims his movie will tap into this original spirit and show a "sharper wit than could be placed into a '60s family TV series." OK, fair enough, but you can't color me as anything but skeptical at this point. And besides, as great as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" was, please don't ever forget that that was actually directed by the great Henry Selick, not Burton. 'Nuff said on all that.

"Inception" details emerge and sound friggin great

There will certainly be many contenders for the movie of the summer (and my dark horse money is on Phillip Noyce's "Salt"), but there really can't be many at all that come burdened with higher expectations than Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" follow up, "Inception." And as details emerge about what exactly it might be about, you can count me as more and more jazzed to finally see it.

He turned up for the big Warner Bros. event on the last day of ShoWest, and here's some of what he had to say about "Inception."

As he introduced a video clip from the flick, which I unfortunately can't find online, he described it as "an action film told in a grand scale by a character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who runs a team of people who have access to a technology that allows them to enter people's minds through their dreams." He said there was shooting in six different countries to create all the dreamscapes. Here's a bit of how Collider, for which I occasionally contribute, described some of the footage:

The footage started with Leo cocking a gun and his voiceover saying, "There's one thing you should know about me. An inception is an idea that's like a virus, it's highly contagious. The small seed of an idea can grow to define or destroy you."

What follows are eerie visuals with people floating and the ethereal string chords build, as we see Leo sitting at a table in an ornately adorned room explaining to Ken Watanabe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt what they do:

"In the dream state, your consciousness defenses lower," he tells them. "It makes your thoughts vulnerable to theft, called extraction. So you can actually train your subconscious to defend itself from the most skilled extractor."

Watanabe asks how he knows that to which Leo replies, "Because I AM the best extractor."

It all sounds more than a bit like "Memento" writ on an extremely grand scale, which would be just fine with me. And Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and, inevitably I suppose, Michael Caine all appear in this too, so you can bet I'll be among the masses buying my ticket when this finally opens July 16.

A couple of biopics I can get squarely behind

The first thing I thought when I heard a Cesar Chavez biopic was at least in the early stages of development was, how has it taken so long? After all, he's a hero to millions of Hispanics and gringos alike, and his life would just make a grand tale.

It seems that screenwriter Keir Pearson and producer Larry Meli agree, and have optioned the life rights of the labor activist Chavez, and will be producing this with Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna's Canana Films. Pearson, by the way, won an Oscar for co-writing "Hotel Rwanda" with director Terry George, and also has, among other projects, a biopic of Roberto Clemente in the works for HBO and Playtone.

And just in case anyone really hasn't heard of Chavez, he dedicated his life to improving the working conditions of California farm workers, eventually co-founding the National Farm Workers Association, which would later become the United Farm Workers.

Though it's of course far too early to be talking about who could pull this role off, Garcia Bernal would certainly seem to be a perfect choice. What say you?

In other, crazier, biopic news, it seems that independent filmmaker and writer David Miller is hard at work with his son, Jordan, on a movie about the truly odd and troubled Texas outsider musician Daniel Johnston. And yes, I know there's already been a documentary about Johnston, the very compelling "Devil and Daniel Johnston," but can you imagine how much fun (well, maybe that's not quite the right word) the right actor could have with this role?

Here's what he to say about the project to Pedestrian, via the Playlist:

I've got a few things going — we're doing a Daniel Johnston biopic and I'm Producing and Writing and Gabriel Sunday our star [from "My Suicide"] he's going to be Directing and playing young Daniel. It's going to be an epic super hero story and it's going to be a narrative biopic so it doesn't really cover any of the same stuff that the famous "Devil And Daniel Johnston" Documentary that won Sundance in 2005 covers.

How are you going to portray older Daniel Johnston?
That's a really good question. We're either putting Gabriel in a fat suit or there's so many people that are reaching out that are huge Daniel Johnston fans. Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly for example, Johnny Depp's a big Daniel Johnston fan though we'd like him to play the older brother. But we haven't really arrived at that yet — we're just in the scripting process at the moment but once we get the script finished we'll be able to get a better handle on what the budget will be.

Nothing like dropping some big names to get attention, but I'd imagine he's right that a lot of actors would indeed be interested in the chance to take on the life a true American original.

And with that, I've got to go to the job that still somehow pays me, but I'll leave you with the trailer for the next Jennifer Aniston movie I'll be seeing (hint: It won't be "Bounty Hunter.") "The Switch," which I believe used to go by the much funnier name "The Baster," is a comedy starring Aniston and veryfunnyman Jason Bateman, and you can watch the trailer below Enjoy, and have a great weekend (and if you can, go see Roman Polanski's new flick, which I'll be doing Saturday afternoon.) Peace out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Conan's revenge may come sooner than you think, on screens big and small

You know, I love Conan O'Brien, but not nearly enough to pay $115 or so to see him on the closing night of his comedy tour at the Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta. Now, however, it seems he might be bringing the show directly to all kinds of cheapskates like me.

It seems that filmmaker Rodman Flender (who I had never heard of, but has apparently directed both "Idle Hands" and "Leprechaun 2" along with a lot of TV, in case that means anything to you), is about to sign on to make a feature film from the 30-city Legally Prohibited from Being Funny tour.

I'll certainly watch that, and in even better news, it seems likes Conan to Fox as soon as this fall is almost a done deal. According to the L.A. Times, key Fox executives, including Satan Murdoch, are on board with the plan and would like to finalize a deal the network could announce at its fall lineup unveiling on May 17.

Details are still being worked out, including that Fox would spend about $60 million annually on the show, as opposed to NBC's $90 million earmarked for Conan's "The Tonight Show," but at least one more really funny thing could come out of all this. Fox is apparently looking at leasing the old "Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" set for the new show, which NBC spent $50 million renovating. Now, I realize this would put more revenue in NBC's pockets, but if Conan were to somehow kick Jay Leno's ass sort of on his old turf, how frigging sweet would that be?

Conan is prohibited from being on TV until September, but that certainly doesn't keep him from plotting that return as soon as possible. Stay tuned ...

And, since it's almost all about funny here today, Amy Heckerling seems to be cooking up something that could really be so with "Vamps," even though, like much of the world over the age of 16, I really have just about had enough of the undead.

Remember Amy Heckerling? Among her very funny films are "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Clueless" (admit it, you like that silly little movie as much as I do.) For her return to writing and directing, Heckerling is reuniting with "Clueless" star Alicia Silverstone for "Vamps" and pairing her with Krysten Ritter, who was just as funny as Jay Baruchel in the surprisingly much better than awful "She's Out of My League" (yes, I watched that.)

The duo will play a pair of beautiful young (do they really have ages?) vampires who are living it up in NYC until, of course, love enters the picture and mucks things up. Sounds more than a little meh, but I'm still betting on pretty seriously funny, especially with this latest bit of casting news.

Sigourney Weaver, late of a little movie called "Avatar," has signed on to play a vampire queen who turned the two young ladies into creatures of the night. Filming will start in April, and with that cast, you can be pretty much sure I'll turn out to see what comes of all this.

And, speaking of funny that's going to come much, much sooner, was there ever any doubt that Tiger Woods would find himself the star of tonight's new season premiere of "South Park"? Of course not. Here's the premise:

The nation's top scientists come together to put a stop to the recent phenomenon of rich, successful men who suddenly want to have sex with many, many women. After extensive testing, some of the fourth grade boys in South Park Elementary are diagnosed as sex addicts.

I'm laughing at that already, and as you'll see from the brief preview below, they either simply obtained the audio tape from Tiger's "press conference" or found a dead voice ringer. Enjoy.

And finally, when it comes to stand-up comedians, they really don't get much better at all than Valdosta, Ga's own late, great Bill Hicks. If you've never seen him perform, get yourself caught up on Youtube and I guarantee you'll laugh. His most frequent targets are advertisers (he's known to open shows with "if you're in advertising or marketing, kill yourself"), but he really spares no one guilty of hypocrisy. And now, thankfully, directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have made a documentary about his too-short life, "American: The Bill Hicks Story," which just played the SXSW fest and will hopefully be coming to a theater or DVD player near me very soon. Enjoy the trailer and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

If I made a Muppet movie ...

I'd certainly put myself in the human starring role too, but more on that in a little bit, because the best possible news to start off this particular Tuesday would have to be the possibility of more "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

For my money, there isn't anything funnier on TV, and hasn't been for at least the past 10 years. Larry David's mix of eventually sweet but very bitter along with the way is just comic perfection, so any news of an eighth season would certainly be welcome.

And being an ornery showman, David offered only the slightest hint it might happen when he recently showed up at the TV confab PaleyFest.

After shooting down the possibility of a movie (thank God for that), he finally got around to saying "I think there's a pretty good chance" and "We're working on a couple of things."

Not much to work with there, but since baseball season is almost here, it's all about hope around here, so here's hoping he gets busy on this soon, and stay tuned until the end for the reason HBO is going to get me to re-up very soon.

And now back to the lead. If I were somehow the person writing a new Muppet movie, you can certainly bet I'd cast myself in it as the human lead, which is apparently just what "Freaks and Geeks" vet Jason Segel has done.

Though the plot of the new Muppet movie he wrote with buddy Nicholas Stoller is still under wraps, we do know it's called "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made" and it's being directed by James Bobin of "Flight of the Conchords." Apart from that, it will of course be about the Muppets reuniting for a big show (what else, after all?), and Segel will apparently be the human who leads the effort to reunite them. That all sounds like nothing but fun to me, so get on with it already!

Scorsese's "Hugo Cabret" taking shape quickly

It can be maddeningly difficult at times to figure out what exactly Martin Scorsese will work on next, but with the cast taking shape seemingly instantly, we can now be certain it is "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." And having read and adored this "children's" book, that's definitely good news to me.

The book itself by Brian Selznick is about an orphaned boy who ends up living in the walls of a Paris train station with his uncle, and operating the station's clocks when his uncle is too drunk to do so. Along the way, he encounters filmmaker Georges Melies and his mechanical men and, well, it's just gets more and more fun from there.

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has signed on to play the station inspector, and Sir Ben Kingsley will reunite with Scorsese to play Melies (if you haven't seen "Shutter Island," by the way, you're about to miss your chance ... I thoroughly enjoyed it.) As far as the kids go, Asa Butterfield, who had the misfortune of starring in the simply dreadful "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," will play our young hero, and that foul-mouthed hit girl Chloe Moretz will play the female lead, Isabelle.

There's certainly a lot of fun stuff for Scorsese to play with here, so definitely bring it on.

Inside the mind of Michel Gondry

It can be even harder to tell what's up with Michel Gondry, but since I almost always dig whatever finally springs from his overactive imagination, it's worth keeping track of.

He is, of course, now shooting "The Green Hornet," starring Seth Rogen (yes, really) from a script by the "Superbad" duo of Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can count me as mildly intrigued by that, but it's with what might come next that things really start to get interesting.

He says that after that will come the indie drama "The We & The I," which is based on his own book, "You'll Like This Film Because You're In It: The Be Kind Rewind Protocol." I haven't read that, but probably will soon, and here's what Gondry had to say about the flick:

“It’s about the group effect, how people in groups transform when the group is dislocated, because everyone jumps out of the bus at different times, there is a smaller group and how the relationships evolve. .. it’s kids on a bus, it’s more like a social thing. It’s not [well-known] actors, it’s going to be kids from a school in the Bronx. I love kids and just [regular] people too because they are not polluted by the medium. They come as they are and they have beautiful stories to tell, so I want to show that.”

Not sure what in the world all that will produce, but his music videos (mi hermano gave me a collection of them for Christmas a few years ago, fantastic viewing) and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" have shown he can have some real fun with crowd dynamics. After that, thankfully, things just keep getting odder and odder.

He's also working with funnybook writer and "Ghost World" scribe Daniel Clowes on some kind of time travel movie which would somehow star Ellen Page (remember her?) Called "Return of the Ice Kids," it's apparently about a group of teenagers who invent a kind of water that makes you hear music (believe me, I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to.) Here's a bit of what he had to say about Page's role in it:

“I’d like to do a movie of this size with my own story, which would be quite amazing. But we’ll see. I’m developing a screenplay with a writer right now about kids who travel [into] the future by mistake and a machine [that] keeps people younger… ehhh, it’s complicated to explain…Ellen Page is supposed to be the main character…She’d play Nancy, a young woman who participates in the discovery and changes the world.”

Also on Gondry's apparently indefatigable mind is an animated movie called "Megalomania," which he's been working on since 2007 with Clowes and his son, Paul. Here's what he had to say about that:

“It’s about three kids who discover how to create energy from hair. And they shave everyone on the planet. The rich people wear and rule the world. So the rich people wear wigs and the poor people are just bald. And they want to make a better world, but the maker — which is sort of based on my son — is a horrible dictator…"

And here's what he has to say about his son:

"I didn’t want him to be the son of me, I want him to be his own person. I always saw him as an individual from the first second he was born. I always appreciated from him from how different he was from me. He’s very well dressed and stylish and much more confident then me. He’s street smart.”

The film is currently set to star the voice talents of Steve Buscemi, Seth Rogen, and Juliette Lewis. And like I said, though it certainly be frustrating to keep track of all that, it's very often well worth it when you see what he finally comes up with. Stay tuned.

OK, after that, all I have today is a trio of videos, starting in honor of today's big release of the Drive-By Truckers' new album "The Big To-Do." It's the band's first album of all new material in a few years, and having listened to it streaming for the last week or so, I can tell you it's a grand rock record well worth a few bucks if you dig that kind of thing. The guys (and gal) are apparently releasing webisodes about the making of each track, which is more than a bit of overkill, but the first one at least, for the sensational Mike Cooley track "Birthday Boy," is very entertaining. Enjoy, and go buy the album too!

And finally today, two videos for David Simon's New Orleans series "Treme," which is finally coming to HBO (along with my money) on April 11. It stars "The Wire" vets Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce, Melissa Leo of "Homicide" (and a lot of other things), and even somehow Steve Zahn and John Goodman too. It takes place three months after Katrina, and I think you'll agree that in at least these short glimpses, he and co-creater Eric Overmyer have really captured the city's rhythm. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bring on baseball, and with it the perfect summer soundtrack

Baseball season is almost here again, and even for someone who still cheers rabidly for the perpetually suffering (and almost all deserved, unfortunately) Baltimore Orioles, it's the best reason all year of every single year to celebrate.

And what could make the 2010 baseball season even better than it's sure to be? How about a month-by-month soundtrack updating the state of the season from some of alt-rock's (or whatever the hell you want to call it) best singer/songwriters.

In 2007, appropriately enough at a communal stadium urinal, fuzz guitar man extraordinaire Steve Wynn (if I had to pick just one, probably my favorite rocker around) and Young Fresh Fellows/Minus 5 vet Scott McCaughey met, and from that soon was born, thankfully, the Baseball Project.

So, what in the world is that? Well, it's just two really talented dudes, along with longtime Wynn drummer Linda Pitmon, getting together to write and perform really fun, totally fuzzed out odes to the world's greatest sport (with all apologies to the runner-up, soccer.) In July of 2008 they put out their first album, "Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Qualls," which I just bought this morning (after the head's up from mi hermano, who luckily has an actual good team, the Twinnies, to cheer for along with the O's.) It's just full of all kinds of fun songs about baseball, including odes to Curt Flood,Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax and others, including a great Spanish ditty about Fernando, and even tracks called "Ted F***ing Williams" and "The Yankee Flipper."

If you've never heard of Steve Wynn, I really probably can't do justice to how great he is in writing, so why not listen to a bit of the Baseball Project yourself? The group has just released the first of its monthly ditties for this season, appropriately enough titled "All Future and No Past." In the perfect spirit of eternal hope that greets each new season, it's a tribute to the league's most long-suffering teams, so the Pirates, Royals and, of course, Orioles all get prominent play. I'm not sure they're right that "The Orioles' recent woes are deceiving," but it's a new season, and that means that for one day at least, the Orioles will be in first place in the American League East by sheer force of alphabetical order.

Click the widget below to listen to "All Future and No Past," and keep a look out on ESPN's The Life for the tracks to come once a month throughout this season (and yes, I can almost guarantee I'll post them all here, too.) Enjoy, have a great rest of the weekend, and unless you somehow cheer for the Red Sox or Yankees, keep hope alive!


Friday, March 12, 2010

For Friday, a bunch of fun movie news

Due to people and their relations being sick, it's just been a tough week for me and my co-workers, but when I saw this yesterday I immediately told everyone within talking distance, because whose day isn't at least a little bit better with news about Harold & Kumar?

It seems that, for which I occasionally contribute, had an interview with John Cho, and along with a lot of news I skipped over about his TV show "Flash Forward" (which I do watch), he revealed the blissfully silly news that filming on "A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas" will indeed begin in June, with the movie set for release in time for Jesus' next big day.

Neil Patrick Harris will apparently be back, and even though he as far as I know might still work for Barack Obama, I'd have to assume Kal Penn will too (otherwise, why watch?) That's easily the news that just made my rather mundane Thursday.

And in easily the craziest news out there this morning, it seems that we can get used to seeing "Avatar" in some form in our movie theaters for a very, very long time to come. It seems the box office king of the world is now adding new scenes (to what was already a pretty freakin' long movie) for a theatrical re-release this fall. You know, I call it crazy, but then again, I just might spring for this, 'cause it was an awful lot of fun.

In other James Cameron news that doesn't interest me in the least but will surely intrigue other folks, he also let it spill that "Titanic" is getting its inevitable 3-D upgrade, and will probably be out in its shiny new form in 2012. I'll admit it: Not only did I just not think the movie was all that great, but the thought of all that water raging toward me in 3-D just gives this wimp the heebie-jeebies.

Noyce books more spy games

If I had to pick a single favorite director, it would probably be Alfonso Cuaron, but if I ever made a list of 10 (and may just do that soon), these next two guys would certainly make the cut.

Phillip Noyce nets this distinction largely on the strength of two fairly recent movies, his sublime remake of the Graham Greene novel "The Quiet American" and the even better South African movie "Catch a Fire."

His next movie will be the spy flick "Salt," starring Angelina Jolie as a CIA spook accused of working for the Russians. I predict that will be the at least slightly surprisingly monster hit of the summer when it comes out July 23, and it seems that Noyce himself is already booked for more spy games.

He's been tapped to helm the spy thriller "Wenceslas Square," based on the short story by Arthur Phillips. It's set in Prague in the late Cold War era and revolves around a young CIA officer and a beautiful Czech spy.

What I'd really like to see him direct is that adaptation of Philip Roth's "American Pastoral," but that seems to be on hold, perhaps forever. In the meantime, I love me some spy games, so bring all this on.

McCarthy rounds out cast for "Win Win"

Another definite directing favorite around here is Thomas McCarthy, who along with starring in the final season of "The Wire" has helmed the great little flicks "The Station Agent" and the even better "The Visitor." He's booked his next project as "Win Win," and it's taking shape very quickly.

With shooting set to start Monday in New York (not, apparently, in Atlanta, as I somehow was led to believe), Fox Searchlight has announced that Melanie Lynskey, Bobby Canavale and, yes, even "Arrested Development" vet and extremelyfunnyguy Jeffrey Tambor will join the already unveiled Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan in the flick.

So, what's it about? Well, written by McCarthy in an at least semi-autobiographical tale, it's about a struggling attorney (Giamatti) who moonlights as a high school coach. He becomes the legal guardian of an elderly client, and when the old man's teenage son runs away, Giamatti's character's family ends up taking him in. The lad goes on to join the wrestling team and, well, you can imagine it will get pretty uplifting from there.

But, in the hands of McCarthy, I'd imagine pretty darn entertaining and insightful too, so definitely keep your eyes on this one.

Franco brothers set their sights on Bukowski tale

Anyone who'd been here before knows that I have a more than slight hetero man-crush on James Franco, and admit it, who in the world doesn't? The dude's just cool, and even though I think he's still an NYU student of some kind, he doesn't seem to ever stop working.

Among his latest projects will be adapting the Charles Bukowski semi-autobiographical novel "Ham on Rye" as a feature film with the help of his brother, Dave. Word so far is only that they're writing this, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that James Franco will also play Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, and maybe even direct the movie too.

He's most recently directed a documentary about "Saturday Night Live" that will debut at this year's SXSW festival.

OK, hopefully that lived up its billing, because it was indeed about as much news as I have time to cram in this morning. I'll leave you with the first trailer I know of for "Shrek Forever After," which will be the fourth installment in the franchise when it comes out, oddly enough, on my birthday, May 21. I didn't care much at all for the second and third movies, but the first was a hoot, so I'll take a chance on this. Enjoy, fear the turtle, and of course have a wonderful weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Warning: This is one movie I'm gonna be seriously obsessed with for the next year or so

OK, I get way too obsessed about movies that won't come out for a long while around here far too often, but you can officially pair this one with Danny Boyle's "127 Hours" as the two I'm most looking forward to in the somewhat near future.

Clint Eastwood has just signed on to direct the biopic of J. Edgar Hoover that is being developed by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment, from a script by "Milk" scribe Dustin Lance Black.

When I first heard that news, my first thought was wouldn't it be fun if Dirty Harry played Hoover, but of course he's far too old by now. It certainly would have been amazing, though. As for who can do it now, Billy Crudup did a much more than passing job in Michael Mann's rather criminally underrated "Public Enemies," so he should certainly be a candidate, but my money would be on them going with a relative unknown to play at least the young Hoover.

As for the subject himself, there can't be many more fascinating - albeit widely reviled - figures of the 20th century, on the one hand creating the FBI and taking on all kinds of gangsters while on the other hand, well, apparently cross-dressing at homosexual orgies (not that there's anything in the world wrong with that.) A complicated dude to say the least, and after what Black did with the life of Harvey Milk, I'm confident he's given this the full treatment it requires.

And, frankly, I have to admit that Eastwood's never been one of my favorite directors, mostly due to his complete aversion to subtlety. That said, I've seen "Gran Torino" three times now and like it more each time (though, and if you still haven't seen this but want to, PLEASE SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH, did he really have to die in the shape of a cross? Sheesh.) I'm fairly certain the man has at least one more great movie in him, so here's hoping this is it.

In much lighter and hopefully funnier news, though I gave up actually smoking pot at least 15 years or so ago (though mi hermano and I tried it during a stop in Amsterdam during the 2006 World Cup, just to make sure I never need to again), I've always loved stoner movies, and I think I always will, especially with this cast.

Jason Segel of "How I Met Your Mother" (and, of course, "Freaks and Geeks," which I try to mention at least once every day) and Ed Helms of "The Office" have signed on to star in "Jeff Who Lives at Home," a stoner comedy from the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay, which will begin shooting next month in Louisiana.

The flick chronicles a day in the life of two brothers, one a stoner who lives at home (Segel, natch) and the other a dude who has things more together but is very overbearing (Helms, natch again.) Just in case that wasn't enough funny for you, Judy Greer is about to join in too as Helms' character's wife. Nice.

Like I said, I'll always be hooked on good stoner flicks, so certainly count me in for all of that. And all I have after that today is a trio of videos (actually, that's not quite true, because some genuine "Mad Men" madness turns up at the end too.)

First up comes the music video for the Runaways' song "Cherry Bomb," performed by the movie's stars, Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. Actually, I have no idea if Stewart actually learned to play the guitar, but that's certainly Dakota singing, and as anyone who's been here before knows, you can count me as being in the camp that thinks "The Runaways" is somehow not going to completely suck when it finally comes out April 9. Enjoy.

You know, I've met more than a few Canadian people in my already fairly long life, and I say this with the utmost respect and kindness, but Canadians really are some odd birds. Just in case you needed further proof, check out this trailer for "Suck," which unfortunately looks like it will live up to every ounce of its title's promise. It does, however, somehow star Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper and, yes, even, Moby, so it's at least worth watching the trailer. Not too oddly at all, I checked the IMDB but was unable to find any kind of release date for this, which is probably on DVD in some form already. Enjoy.

And finally (well, before the "Mad Men" goodness, at least), here's the newest trailer for Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," which will be out to assault all your sense and sensibility on May 14. I still can't yet see any way this is going to be any good, but I've been wrong at least once today already I'm sure, so enjoy the trailer.

And, really finally, even though I'm far too old and, well, everything to ever play with dolls, who could resist at least looking at these Mattel creations based on the characters from "Mad Men"? If you have more disposable income than me and want something funny to put on your mantel, you certainly could do a lot worse. They go on sale in July for a rather ridiculous price of $75 each! Anyways, enjoy the photo, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A new Wizard of Oz? You've got to be f%$#ing kidding me! Plus, a new Drive-By Truckers album

I've been pretty much amazed by the reaction to Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," with critics pretty much split right down the middle. Well, you can certainly count me in the pro category, something you can rarely say about Burton's remakes.

Unlike "Planet of the Apes," which was just a lifeless mess, and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which he just made into a perverted pile of trash, I found "Alice in Wonderland" to be nothing but charming, largely because Burton restrained all his worst impulses. I was a little worried when Alice first managed to walk out into Wonderland (or, as he calls it, Underland) and there were those two little flying creatures battling, but he mostly managed to resist cluttering the world with too many oddities and just let the story tell itself.

What comes next, however, just might be way beyond the pale. This is just at the beginning of rumor stage, but when it's this bad, I feel duty bound to spread it around (as if I would really have any power to stop it.)

There really does seem to be no limits to what will be engulfed by the 3-D beast, so someday I should probably manage to stop being surprised by this lunacy, but I just assumed no one would have the hubris to think they could remake "The Wizard of Oz," right? Apparently not.

According to the Los Angeles Times, with Harry Potter set to end soon and considering the rather amazing opening weekend for "Alice," Warner Bros. is seriously eyeing jumpstarting one of two updated "Wizard of Oz" scripts knocking about to make it a 3-D spectacle. Remember, I'm just the messenger here.

One project, called "Oz," is being pushed by Temple Hill, the folks behind a little series called "Twilight," and has a script by Darren Lemke, a writer on the upcoming "Shrek Forever After." OK, bad, but maybe not awful. But wait ...

The second potential project, which seems to be paralyzing my fingers so I have trouble even writing it, skews a lot more twisted, with "A History of Violence" scribe Josh Olson penning a version that focuses on - yes, really - a granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to Oz to somehow fight evil. Not surprisingly. "Spawn" creator Todd MacFarlane, who has had a twisted Dorothy fetish for years now, would be involved in this in some kind of producing capacity.

Now, I can certainly understand the temptation here. A potential tentpole with the perfect heroine, and all that nifty 3-D to boot, but really? Where to start ...

My main beef with all of this - and believe me, I could go on for quite a while - is that the original "The Wizard of Oz," in an admittedly antiquated way, is plenty twisted itself already. It certainly doesn't need to be any darker or odder or anything else than it already is.

If anyone has a lot more power than me, please stop this as soon as possible. And from here on out today, it's all good news, I promise, including two simply sensational musical offerings at the end.

De Niro to play Vince Lombardi

If you're gonna do a grand sports biopic, you probably can't find a better match in my book than Robert De Niro and Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers coach who led his team to five NFL titles. De Niro has signed on to play the role on the big screen for ESPN Films, with a script to come from Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Now, I've made clear my pretty intense dislike (not hate, note) of that David Fincher flick, but I seriously doubt Roth will be able to "Gump" this up the way he did Fincher's movie.

And as for ESPN Films, I've tuned in for their TV film series when the subject interests me. The Len Bias flick was pretty great until it veered off course at the end to proselytize about the legalization of drugs, and that little movie about the U. of Miami was nothing but fun. The flick about Jimmy the Greek was intriguing, but that ridiculous voice over that was supposed to represent the voice of the oddsmaker almost made it unwatchable.

What all the TV offerings have had in common, however, is that they're about as shallow as a half-filled kiddie pool, but I'd have to think Roth will get into a much more fleshed-out portrait of Lombardi here, and I'll certainly turn out to see it when this hits in that dead weekend before the Super Bowl in 2012 (great timing there.)

Two seriously funny ladies returning to TV

The only thing missing from the great news that Will Arnett was reteaming with "Arrested Development" co-creators Mitchell Hurwitz and Jim Vallely for a Fox sitcom to be called "Wilde Kingdom" was word of who would have the rather onerous task of being subjected to his obnoxious advances.

Well, it seems that Felicity herself, Keri Russell, is about to sign on to play the co-lead, which would be nothing but cool. In the show, Arnett would play a Beverly Hill jackass (natch) who falls in love with a charitable, tree-hugging woman (Russell) who can't stand his lifestyle or values.

Sounds like fun, and really, just the further adventures of Gob Bluth, and what could be wrong with that?

In other TV news at least tangentially related to "Arrested Development," Judy Greer has been tapped to star opposite David Krumholtz in another Fox comedy pilot, "Tax Man."

In the show, Greer is set to play a former Morgan Stanley secretary, nicknamed "the Terminator," who joins an IRS office in Fresno, Calif., staffed by enthusiastic eccentrics.

Greer is seriously funny in just about anything she does, and though Krumholtz has made a steady living for years now on "Numbers," which I've never seen, you may remember him from way back when as Neal Schweiber's big brother Barry on "Freaks and Geeks," so this is definitely one worth keeping an eye out for next fall.

New music video from She & Him

I know at least one semi-regular visitor to this site, Bob Connally, is jazzed about there being a second She & Him album out this week, and I am too.

For anyone who doesn't know, She & Him is a nifty little collaboration between Zooey Deschanel and plugged-in folkie M. Ward, and their first album, "Volume One," was just thoroughly charming, so I'm looking forward to more of the same with "Volume Two," which is due out March 23 (not yesterday, as I was hoping before an alert reader corrected me.) In the meantime, enjoy this first music video for the song "In the Sun," which with Deschanel and friends dancing their way through high school hallways is just a perfectly sweet diversion. Enjoy.

And, much better, next week will bring the release of a new Drive-By Truckers' album, "The Big To-Do." Even better than that is that it's currently streaming for free, and all you have to do to hear it is click on the player below. My first impressions? It's a solid rock record that falls somewhere between good and great. It could certainly use more Mike Cooley and less Shonna Tucker, but the Cooley song "Birthday Boy" and Patterson Hood tracks "Drag the Lake Charlie" and "The Wig He Made Her Wear" are first rate. Enjoy, and have a perfectly endurable Wednesday. Peace out.